Navigating mental healthcare can be a difficult and confusing process. In our semi-monthly column, we take your questions for a psychiatrist and ask the professionals on your behalf.
Please note that this article is for educational purposes only. The following does not constitute official medical advice, and no treatment relationship has been established. You should consult your own doctors to best understand the needs of your unique situation. If you or someone you know is in crisis, please visit the nearest emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255), which is a 24/7 toll-free number. For non-crisis situations and non-U.S. resources, check out the resources on our Find Support page.
This month's question:
How do I manage my anxiety with all the COVID-19 news around?
Dr. Wang says:
To start, it is important for us to acknowledge our own anxiety (as well as the anxiety of those around us) in a nonjudgmental way. This is no time for denial, much less dismissal of feelings. Anxiety is a valid feeling and it can motivate us to act in helpful and productive ways. On the contrary, the more we repress feelings, the more powerful they become. They may take on a life of their own and wreak havoc on our health. They may lead us to behave unkindly to others, especially when others exhibit those very feelings that we don’t wish to acknowledge in ourselves. So, take a deep breath, and kindly allow yourself to acknowledge anxiety, if it is there. If you don’t feel particularly anxious, that’s ok too. You may be in a very good position to help others.
While COVID-19 is a relatively new virus, there is already a lot of information available about its means of transmission, its clinical course, and some emerging treatment options. Knowledge is a powerful tool in battling anxiety because it reduces uncertainty and sets the stage for meaningful next steps. So, one way to manage our anxiety is to get educated from credible sources like the CDC or your local health department. Learn good infection control practices. Write down and practice cleaning / disinfecting routines. Talk to family members about contingency plans if someone were to get sick.
While knowledge is power, we must also take care to not become exclusively focused on COVID-19. How much does the instantaneous availability of the latest COVID-19 data affect your quality of life? How many times per day do you need to check the news / research the data in order to be informed? Twice a day? Three times a day? Or every hour?
We must not lose track of what we are doing - we fight the virus in order to live. We don’t live to fight the virus.
If we give into this impulse to follow COVID-19 news coverage 24/7, it can easily become an obsession that steals our time and energy from the things that are actually worth living for. I believe that it is critical that we unplug from time to time. I personally have instituted a policy that I look at the news and research COVID-19 information no more than twice a day. I also make it a point to not look at the news or check social media before bedtime. Bedtime is sacred. A good night’s sleep is important to physical and mental health, and an important factor in a healthy immune system. Do not let your brain be in overdrive as you lay down to rest. Instead, practice deep breathing or progressive relaxation to help your body and mind fully relax.
(To be continued in the next installment...)
ABOUT DR. WANG
Dr. Ying Wang is a psychiatrist in Pennsylvania, USA. She received her medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine and completed her residency at Harvard Medical School’s Massachusetts General Hospital/McLean Hospital adult psychiatry program.